Pesticide regulation talks threaten UK food supply chain

By Gwen Ridler

- Last updated on GMT

Bans on commonly used pesticides and herbicides threaten to jeopardise the UK’s supply of cost-effective food
Bans on commonly used pesticides and herbicides threaten to jeopardise the UK’s supply of cost-effective food

Related tags Crop protection European union Agriculture

Poor EU decision making about the future of crop protection products could jeopardise the UK’s supply of cost-effectively produced food and cost farmers more than £1bn, warned the National Farmers Union (NFU).

The NFU highlighted three forthcoming EU decisions: the future use of endocrine disruptor pesticides, whether or not to ban the outdoor use of neonicotinoids and the reauthorisation of the herbicide glyphosate. 

Changes to endocrine disruptor definitions could see 26 commonly used pesticides and herbicides banned, claimed the union, while a ban on outdoor use of neonicotinoids would wheat yields could be cut by 0.6t/ha.

NFU’s vice-president Guy Smith urged for evidence-based decisions to be made by the EU Commission, as the wrong decision could damage the UK’s food supply.

“We will continue to work with our members to help them make the case to politicians and other decision makers about the importance of these products and to demonstrate the damage that bad decisions will have on farming and our food supply,” ​said Smith.

‘Damage that bad decisions will have’

Food producers needed access to all the available crop protection tools, said NFU combinable crops board chairman Mike Hambly.

Removing tools from our armoury raises the pressure on the ones we have left and increases the likelihood of resistance developing as we are forced to rely on a smaller range of products,”​ he said.

A ban by the EU on herbicides containing glyphosate could have several harmful economic consequences, claimed analyst Oxford Economics and business consultancy The Andersons centre – in partnership with the Crop Protection Association.

A ban on the chemical could lead to a reduction farm output of £940M, while reducing tax revenues generated by agriculture and its supply chain by £193M. It could also push up food prices.

Oxford Economics director of consulting Ian Mulheirn said: “Our report’s findings are very clear – a glyphosate ban will negatively impact UK GDP and agriculture, at a time of real uncertainty.

“If glyphosate was not approved for use in the UK, but remained available in the rest of the world, this would place domestic production at a considerable disadvantage.”

More about politics than science

The debate around the use of glyphosate is more about politics than science, claimed CPA chief executive Sarah Mukherjee.

Use of the chemical has been approved by 28 global regulators, including the European Food Safety Authority and the World Health Organisation.

“Glyphosate is and always has been safe, with over 40 years of robust scientific evidence showing no risk to safety,”​ said Mukherjee.

“Clearly the UK government should continue to champion a science-led approach to decision making in Europe and vote to renew glyphosate’s licence. Failure to do so risks damaging the economy, the environment and the agricultural sector.”

Meanwhile, science, rather than emotion, should underpin any future revisions to the UK’s regulatory regime governing crop production after Brexit,​ the head of crop protection at Rothamsted Research has warned.

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